Barney McAll/Monash Art Ensemble


(Extra Celestial Arts)


zeph resWith each album Barney McAll’s artistry currently seems to scale new heights. Certainly Zephyrix (Zephyr amalgamated with Phoenix) is his most ambitious composition to date: a suite for 15 players evoking the five birds of alchemy. The music is both programmatic and philosophical in intent, celebrating transformation, while providing a soundtrack for the soul’s putative journey towards serenity.

Black Crow, loosely representing release from the physical body, is a series of eerie hazes coagulating into sudden shafts of melody, through which runs a tinkling stream of McAll’s piano. White Swan, the first encounter with dazzling ethereality, is (surprisingly!) realised with a chunky ensemble groove and blinding trumpet and tenor solos. The transformational splendour of Peacock is evoked by otherworldly violin over a feathery backdrop, before an exotic ensemble fans out into multiple solos. The self-sacrificial facet implicit in Pelican is initially invoked with a percussion-heavy section, and then translucent solo piano. The title track – conceptually a rope-in, but musically pivotal – precedes the final alchemical bird, Phoenix, the transcendence of the physical realised by the album’s most haunting music transmuting into its most vigorous.